Laurel Canyon   Leave a comment

We’ve probably all got a favourite time in history that we would love to have lived in, or at least fascinates us – The Egyptians, The Romans, the Wild West, London in the 1930’s. For me it is definitely Laurel Canyon in the late 60’s, early 70’s, when it was a haven for singer songwriters and musicians and actors, (it still is really).

A magical, mystical place, right in the heart of one of the busiest, largest cities in the world, this oasis of small, winding roads into the mountains, with its houses on stilts overlooking the basin of lights that is LA, remains a special place for me.

It has inspired many artists – Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; The Eagles and Jackson Brown; John Mayall; Morrison; Zappa, to name just a few. Actors like Jack Nicholson lived there, as did Marlon Brando (our house was opposite his, but he had died years before).

laurel canyon house

The Country Store on Laurel Canyon Boulevard was a focal point, halfway up the mountain. We lived at the bottom of Laurel Canyon, close to Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. Our house was one of the oldest in the canyon, originally built apparently in the early 1900’s, when LA was basically just orange groves, just before movies, and then music, helped it become the city it is today.

The new album, Laurel Canyon, tries to capture the magic, the innocence of songwriting from around the early 70’s, when The Troubadour, The Whiskey were among the places to hang, to play. It’s very acoustic based, with little overdubs.

The songs include I Can’t Remember My Name, a tip of the hat to David Crosby; House in the Hills; The Ballad of Joshua Tree (another magical place), and the title track, plus there are a number of demos on the album.

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Current track order:

1. House in the Hills
2. I Can’t Remember My Name
3. Demo – I Saw A Cross
4. Dark Cloud
5. Averie Grace
6. Demo – Sleeping With Angels
7. Healing Waters
8. The Ballad of Joshua Tree
9. Demo – 24/7
10. If You’re Gonna Fall In Love (Fall In Love With Me)
11. Get To Know You
12. Whatever
13. If I Didn’t Know Better
14. Same Old Story
15. Out-take – Too Much To Ask
16. Take It As It Comes
17. Demo – Telegraph Road
18. Shooting Down The Harvest Moon
19. Out-take – Why Can’t You Let Me Go
20. A Safe Place To Land
21. Laurel Canyon

Today, Laurel Canyon has its own radio station, newspaper, coyotes are still heard at night, stardust remains in the air, and songwriters and artists still head for it looking for that inspiration.

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Posted September 21, 2017 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Cancer   Leave a comment

An often unspoken part of life.

Sad news today about Nashville singer, Jessi Zazu, who has died of cervical cancer.

jessi

Obviously any death from cancer is awful but what makes Jessi’s case worse is that she was only 28.

Jessi was the singer of the acclaimed indie band, Those Darlins’, who released three albums. I remember hearing them a few years ago on Lightning 100 FM.

Last week we lost two country giants, Troy Gentry, and Don Williams. It’s always heartbreaking when someone passes but these two men touched so money people with their music, they will live on, on airwaves and in people’s hearts as will Jessi.

don

Cancer is a murderer, a life sentence and can affect all of us, anyone, but when it is someone so young it is all the more hurtful and devastating.

Treatment gets better with every year but too many people are still dying. I pray a cure is found soon.

Posted September 13, 2017 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Laurel Canyon   Leave a comment

It’s been a long time coming but the new album will be released early next year, and will be a double album, featuring demos, out-takes and home recordings.

laurel new1
 

Posted September 12, 2017 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

The Country Preacher   Leave a comment

I’ve been working on a treatment for a movie for a while.  Originally set in Wales, I’ve since ‘relocated’ it to Tennessee.  It’s called The Country Preacher, and is about a man who travels the countryside, visiting different small towns and their churches, preaching the Good Book.  He doesn’t, however, travel light, bringing with him all the baggage that comes with bourbon, bullets and womanizing.  Whilst his heart is in the right place, he is a bit of a scoundrel at the same time, constantly causing conflict and chaos in the towns that he visits – and yes, it is set in the present time.

countrypreacher2

In my research for this, last year I was ordained as a pastor myself.   I can legally marry people, I can open a church, my own church, and it cost me a dollar, one single dollar.  Yet, religion is a huge business here in America.  Where I live we have two gas stations that are also convenience stores and that’s it, apart from no less than at least ten churches in the small five mile radius, in the heart of Tennessee.  Indeed, there are more churches in Tennessee, per head, than any other state I believe.  There are massive churches, there are small churches, like the one nearest, a lovely church run by a a nice man, a pastor, and his wife.  They have a congregation of about thirty people.

rockychurch2

On any given Sunday morning, television here is overtaken by programmes from churches, promoting their church, usually paying to air their program; churches that encourage members of their congregation to donate a percentage of their hard earned wages to the church each week or month.  At the same time, the Pastor of some of these churches are living a life of luxury, living in mansions, with private helicopters, brand new, beautiful cars and limousines.

Many of the pastors of small churches are very sincere but the larger churches are run as a business, offering services and advice that have no place in a church – Jesus called temples ‘a den of thieves’ and this has not changed it seems.

It is common here that people in prison ‘find’ Jesus, I wrote a song about this on the album Country Tales and Hobo Trails.  It helps with their parole applications.  One very prominent local pastor of a big, very popular church, is a convicted murderer.  He killed a woman and went to prison, but was released early.  He appears as one of the least likely God worthy men I’ve ever seen, there is nothing holy about him at all.  A local paper here in Nashville has been exposing him for a long time and yet some people refuse to see the truth, that he is abusing their need and want to believe.

It’s not just in America though.  When I had the theatre in England on Sundays it had been used by a local ‘church’ for their services.  It was run by an American couple, who lived in a gorgeous, huge beach house in the area, yet the congregation were mainly very poor people.  It was known locally as the ‘Church of the Last Resort’, as most had tried other churches and had failed to find what they were looking for – perhaps they never will,

I don’t intend to open a church of course, but if I did, meetings would be in a field or a barn, and there would be no collection or ‘blessings’; of any kind, other than perhaps food and drink for the meeting.  You don’t need to attend a church to be a good Christian or a good believer in any faith, it is what is in your heart and your mind that solely matters, and how you live your life, and treat others.

You cannot sin because you think you’ll be forgiven at church next Sunday.  It doesn’t work that way.

I once worked at a Christian radio station in California, presenting a show of songs with messages, not necessarily by Christian artists, (U2 broke America through servicing Christian radio stations first, as have a number of other artists).  People at the station were very sincere in their beliefs.  I hate to see that belief being taken advantage of by anyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be in the name of Jesus.

Posted November 6, 2016 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Another year almost over – and what a year – Welshman in TN   Leave a comment

This has been a contrasting year in that at times it has seemed to have passed so quickly, and yet at other times, so slowly.

The move on to the land, setting up the home here, putting in a new drive a third of a mile long, water lines, septic tank and electric all proved very stressful, and I am not sure that if I had known then what it would entail I would have gone ahead with it.

Of course it didn’t help that we did it at the hottest time of the year, which we had said we wouldn’t do but delays took it out of our control.

Sitting here now though it all seems worthwhile. I am on our deck, the three dogs asleep by me, looking out to our fields and trees. We get deer up to the house most mornings and evenings and the birds are amazing, red cardinals, bluebirds (the state bird of Tennessee no less), vultures and so many more, plus squirrels, groundhogs, coyotes and snakes – it is a bit like living on a safari park here on Hickory Moon Farm! (A beautiful bird of prey, beige, with a huge wing span, has literally just flown by me here on the deck, into the woods).

Now it is autumn, or fall, the leaves have fallen from the trees in the woods that line our land and the trucks on the highway are now more audible as they make their way across the state line to or from Kentucky, which is about fifteen miles away from us. It conjures up for me images of bootleggers, driving down back roads with their contraband evading the sheriffs.

I have to say that everyone has been so amazingly friendly and helpful, Southern hospitality at its finest. There is an underlying current of racism in some places and with some people, stuck as they are in the past, ignorance still prevailing.

Also we are in the middle of Tennessee and hunting! Again it is not for us but respect that it is a way of life for many here. Deer are the main victims, squirrels and rabbits smaller targets. Our neighbours across the fields are avid hunters, and can and tin up deer meat that lasts them the year.

There are a number of meat processing firms in the area, and deer is one of the main meats. We will be using them for our own use though – we plan to get a cow next year and subsequently a calf. We are also getting goats, for meat and for dairy as well as chickens, ducks and possibly turkeys.

Once the holiday season is over we have a lot of work ahead of us – ploughing the fields and sowing our seeds! We intend to be as self sufficient as possible.

We plan to get a couple of donkeys, as they are apparently great protectors of stock from coyotes, of which there are a number around here.

All of this has had an impact of course on my work, my recording and writing. The studio is set up to go but I have put back the release and publication of the new CD and book until next year, when I can give them the attention needed.

Our dogs have settled in and love it here, running in the fields until they can run no more. Hope, our chocolate lab that we flew in from the UK, is like a puppy, defying her nine years. Willow, our wolf dog is now huge but loving, playful and protective, and they have now been joined by Miss Daisy Mae, a bloodhound mix puppy who has certainly made her presence known! She is also loving, very naughty, and is going to also be huge. What have we done?!? They all get on now wonderfully and as I type this Miss Daisy Mae is barking at Willow – no fear!

There is also Possum, our cat who thinks he is a dog. He comes down the field with us when we take the dogs, and sleeps right next to one of them every night. I simple do not understand cruelty to animals and would easily lock up (at least) any one found hurting an animal but it happens. We rescued Miss Daisy Mae from a shelter and Possum, and will probably rescue more.

We had tried to survive without a landline but have this week succumbed. The signal for our cell phones is appalling. We are also having to do with only 15gb a month through our satellite internet service – we were using 350gb before we moved!

One of the best things has been our deck, 360 square feet, it’s another room! Covered by old red tin roofing, (very Southern, the rain falling onto the roof, wonderful sound), the deck has a bar, table and chairs and a vintage television and video, with two further chairs, and heating is courtesy of a big chiminea. There’s also a grill, a fridge, another television at the bar, and finally, a hot tub! Sitting in this at night, with the stars above, trees blowing gently in the wind in the distance and nature all around is simply surreal – and hugely therapeutic!

Indeed the stars are amazing. There is no light pollution at all here so on clear nights we can make out constellations and planets and it has been wonderful, taking me back to my childhood interest and imagination regarding space. The meteor shower in late summer, with shooting star after shooting star, took our breaths away.

It has been hard work, and there is a lot more ahead early next year, but it is and will be so rewarding.

Well I’d better finish for now and take the short cut across the fields and walk the quarter of a mile up to our mailbox, passing our new beehives, and then back again. I’ve lost thirty pounds at least this year, without trying, (and much needed!).

There’s a storm predicted for tonight so also time to ‘batten down the hatches’.

Posted November 13, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Fiction or fact? The threat of war – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment

We live in such a volatile world. Unprovoked violence on the streets of most towns and cities and it seems the constant threat of a cold war.

On Sunday I watched an excellent episode of the well written TV show, Madam Secretary. The story line was about a Russian nuclear submarine that had entered US waters. Matters escalated and depth charges were released by the US Navy and the submarine fired a torpedo, which hit the US destroyer. It turned out there submarine was in trouble, and most of the crew died. It showed just how close we still are to a war, but it’s all fiction of course – but it’s not.

Last year there was the incident off the Norway/Swedish coast of a Russian submarine seen very close to the mainland, and there was an incident a few years ago when another Russian sub also got into trouble and the crew died.

Yesterday British fighter jets had to ‘escort’ two Russian bombers from entering UK airspace. This is the latest in a long line of such acts by the Russians, their bombers and jet fighters seemingly about to enter UK airspace, and it has been the same on the US coast.

It seems to be a game to Putin and military leaders, but this posturing has to stop, but it won’t. God forbid but one day someone will go too far and the retaliation will be catastrophic.

Today the Russians have announced that they are resuming sales of missiles to Iran, putting peace with Israel in jeopardy for example, and there is growing tension in South Asia.

We can only hope that sense and humanity prevails.

Posted April 14, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

You Gotta Have Faith – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment

One thing that visitors to the area soon comment about are the number of churches.

rockychurch2

Religion is big business here, and that is exactly what it is, a business.

Yesterday, one of the very first television preachers or evangelists I saw over here, Robert Schuller, passed away. His famous church, the Crystal Cathedral, is in Southern California, and for years he was on every Sunday morning with his sermons and service. I never once saw him ask for money or donations. Unfortunately a few years ago it all went bankrupt and the wonderful church was sold to a nearby Roman Catholic church.

I believe there are more churches in Tennessee per head than anywhere else in the US. Even where our land is there is, in the middle of the countryside, there is a church, The Rocky Creek Baptist church, within walking distance.

rocky2

One of the most ‘successful’ churches in the Nashville area is led by a convicted murderer. Yesterday I saw a commercial on television for this church, with its new restaurant, free wi-fi and very beautiful, new spacious building. A local paper has had this pastor in its sights for a number of years, as it appears he has never shown remorse over the death of the woman he murdered. Now, I’ve never met him, but a couple of my family have. He is the least Godly person – arrogant, rude and cold. I even wrote a song about him, Jailhouse Jesus and the Preacher, which was on the Country Tales and Hobo Trails album. He claims, like many other prisoners, to have found God, in prison. Of course this helps with their parole.

I am also aware that members of his congregation actually donate a percentage of their earnings to his church, on a regular basis, no matter how little they earn, or how much.

Faith is such a personal thing, and I feel that respecting other people’s faiths and beliefs is paramount to a safe world. I have a friend who was born Jewish, has tried most faiths through his life and is now a devoted Christian, saying that Jesus spoke to him one day from the television, and told him to stop smoking weed! His social media page is full of rants against Palestine, updates throughout every day. It is a dangerous obsession. I did try to steal his soapbox one day but he caught me. I also made sure not to be stuck in a car with him for anytime amount of time, the few occasions I did I seriously thought of jumping out of the moving car, or pushing him out. He is one of the sweetest humans I’ve met, but has this dark side to him, fuelled by religion. His extremism is as dangerous in some ways, (not all ways, of course) as extremists from other religions.

To kill, in any religion, is a sin, it is as simple as that, no matter how people may try to twist or reword the Bible or the Karan or any other religious book, and take words out of context, to suit personal fanatical views.

Financial gain should never be allowed either. In England, the Church of England are the largest land owners in the country, yet they invest their profits in companies that make loans to desperate people, with extortionate interest rates. Why not invest it back into the community? The Vatican of course is another incredibly wealthy institution.

Personal beliefs should never be imposed on others; other faiths and views should be respected, surely? I have learnt never to start a conversation about religion, or politics! They are the two no goes!

Here in Middle Tennessee you can’t buy wine or liquor on a Sunday. A new bill is being passed that allows supermarkets to sell wine; they already sell beer, but that’s it.

Now the Jesus I believe in liked wine, was always drinking it. The Jesus I believe in though didn’t like churches, called them ‘a den of thieves’, (which I used in the Christmas Jackson Woods story). That’s why He spoke on hillsides and beaches and other open spaces.

Going back to the church in the commercial last night, there is simply no excuse for restaurants in churches, or free wifi. Go to church to pray, go to talk with God, but that’s it – the profit is paying for a private helicopter (which this pastor has), and a huge mansion (which this pastor has). He found that not only was God his possible way out of prison early, but he discovered that God means money to many people, makes money for so many. This pastor is now making millions, far more than if he had kept to his life or murder and crime.

The irony though is that his church is packed every Sunday, as indeed many are here. There is a weekly television broadcast of the services. There are church sections in the local papers where churches advertise but in many cases I feel their faith is being abused. History shows many so-called men (and women) of God end up in prison for abusing their positions, either financially or sexually, or both!

I think they have lost sight of the faith, blinded by greed and the green dollar signs.

When I was looking to join a royalty collection company I went to PRS offices in London. They are lovely, very lavish, with original paintings, sculptures, all paid for by songwriters. I went then to the ASCAP offices and they were in a small, working suite of offices. I joined them. Maybe it should be that way with churches. There is a new church that has just opened down the road. They have to have the sheriff’s department at their services to organise the traffic there are so many people.

I remember going to church, in Cardiff, the Albany Road Baptist church. It was always crowded, which was nice, and I went to Sunday school, as did my kids. Learning the teachings of any faith is wonderful and I can understand and respect why so many people go to church but there are some people who will seek to abuse these people’s trust, just like in any industry = look at the entertainment industry! I saw yesterday another new church being opened, this one called The Music City Baptist Church!

Today is Good Friday, so this seems pretty apt. Someone doesn’t have to go to church to be a good Christian, far from it. To me, Christianity is more a way of life, helping and loving each other, just being kind – do unto others …..

There does also seem to be a belief here that someone can sin and just go to church the next Sunday and God will forgive them, so it’s okay that they killed someone. It is not okay, but they can make serious amends. If you’re in prison and you find your cellmate is Jesus, great, but don’t use that to make money and abuse people’s need to believe in something, or someone.

Finally, remember Matthew 19:24 “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Happy Easter or Passover.

Posted April 3, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized